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ARTICLE ID 46883

$________ PLUS $________ WORKER'S COMPENSATION - PRODUCTS LIABILITY - DEFECTIVE HYDRAULIC METAL BENDING MACHINE - LACK OF POINT OF OPERATION GUARD - SURGICAL AMPUTATION OF THREE FINGERS.

Philadelphia County

The male plaintiff was a 59-year-old truck driver who was helping out in the shop of his employer which makes ductwork for the heating and air conditioning industry. On June 11, ________, the plaintiff’s hand was crushed in a hydraulic Roto-die machine (a metal bending machine) manufactured by the defendant manufacturer’s predecessor and allegedly sold by the defendant seller. The plaintiff claimed that the machine was dangerously defective in that it lacked a point-of-operation guard which would have prevented the injury. The defendants argued that the machine was misused by the plaintiff and his co-worker. The defense also contended that the plaintiff’s employer was responsible for ensuring the safety of the machine and had not properly maintained it.

The Roto-die machine at issue is comprised of a ten-foot wide vertical piece of metal bolted to the floor. The top of the machine is a ram which houses the descending die and the bottom of the machine is stationary. The top die, lowered by a foot pedal, descends down and pinches the metal between the upper and lower parts where it is then bent into shape.

On the day of injury, the plaintiff was operating the foot pedal of the Roto-die machine to lower the descending ram. He and his co-worker were each holding one side of a metal sheet feeding it into the point of operation for bending. As the ram was lowering, the plaintiff’s co-worker apparently moved the metal sheet out of alignment, thereby throwing the plaintiff’s hand into the point of operation. The plaintiff’s hand was crushed under the descending ram.

The plaintiff’s liability experts opined that the Roto-die machine was defective in that it lacked a point of operation guard. The plaintiff’s experts contended that there were safer alternative designs available, which included features such as traditional guards or safety sensors.

The plaintiff sustained a significant crush injury to his dominant right hand, most severely his index, middle and ring fingers. He was transported to the hospital, where a 13-hour surgery was performed in an attempt to save the fingers. However, the crush damage to the veins and arteries could not be successfully repaired. The plaintiff ultimately underwent multiple surgical procedures to amputate three fingers at the palm.

The plaintiff claimed a diminished earning capacity as a result of the injury and his economist estimated his loss of future wages to be approximately $________. The plaintiff also contended that his finger amputation has made many activities difficult, including using sign language to communicate with his adult son who is deaf.

The defendants argued that the alternative designs suggested by the plaintiff’s expert would not have worked and would have impeded operation of the machine. The defendant contended that point of operation guarding was not applicable at the manufacturing level because the machine had multiple uses and the ultimate use would only be known by the end user.

The defense maintained that the plaintiff’s employer, who enjoyed worker’s compensation immunity, was responsible for safeguarding the machine, pursuant to ANSI standards and allowed it to fall into disrepair. A holding rack on the front of the machine was broken and a warning sign had fallen off and not been replaced at the time of the accident, according to the defense.

The defendant also contended that the plaintiff and his co-worker were not properly trained and misused the Roto-die machine; the plaintiff stepped on the foot pedal and the co-worker caused the plaintiff’s hand to be injured by suddenly moving the metal sheet as they were feeding it into the machine. The defendant additionally disputed the plaintiff’s claim for future wages, arguing that he had supervisory experience, was still capable of driving a vehicle and could obtain alternative employment.

The defendant seller took the position that it was only a broker or "middleman" in the sale of the Roto-die machine and bore no responsibility for the plaintiff’s injury. This defendant argued that it never had possession of the machine but simply facilitated the arrangements for the plaintiff’s employer to purchase it used from another shop and then sent the purchaser an invoice.

The case settled prior to trial for $1.5 million. The defendant manufacturer paid $________ and the defendant seller paid $________. The settlement also included a lump-sum worker’s compensation award of $________ to the plaintiff as well as waiver of any worker’s compensation lien.

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